The “Peace versus Justice” Debate: Views From the Darfurian Refugee Camps

I apologize for not having posted anything in what appears to be way too long, even though from my perspective it feels as if it was just yesterday. I have been busy here and there, with work, The Hague, and finishing my LLM dissertation. Now that most of that is behind me, I can get back to this blog, and boy, there’s been plenty to talk about these past few weeks: the UN Mapping Report regarding crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s, a delicate political situation in Sudan, and some worrisome news from the front lines of the global struggle against terrorism. And let’s not forget the Pope’s visit to the UK, and the temptation by a certain number of people to put him on trial for crimes against humanity.

I will write on some, if not all, of these issues in the following days (again, forgive me for my lateness in reacting to these events), but I want to start off with a post on a NGO project called Darfurian Voices that I came across a few weeks ago.

As some of you know, I am currently doing a legal internship at the non-governmental organization the Coalition for the ICC in The Hague, and one of the many great things about it is that I get a chance of meeting other NGOs and their work in the field of international criminal justice.

One of these NGOs that I’ve had the occasion of meeting is called 24 Hours for Darfur, is based in New York, and have carried out these past few years an incredible and very interesting experiment in the Darfurian refugee camps in Chad: using scientific methods and abiding by “high academic standards”, they have polled the refugees on certain issues relating to the future of the conflict and of its resolution. 24 Hours for Darfur interviewed over 1,800 people using the same questionnaire. They also conducted more in-depth interviews with refugee and rebel leaders in order to get a feel of what the communities as such perceived. What has particularly caught my interest is the refugees’ view on the “Peace versus Justice” debate.

The Peace versus Justice Debate. The Peace versus Justice conundrum is one of the most discussed and debated issues in international relations and international law circles. The question raised is pretty self-explanatory: does Justice – and more specifically speaking, international criminal justice – contribute to the peace process, or, by attempting to make key figures responsible for their actions, impede it instead?

It’s an interminable debate, usually between what is considered a “realist” school of thought, who would prefer international justice take a back seat to the quest for international peace and security, and a more “idealistic” group of thinkers, who would argue that Justice, far from impeding peace processes, paves the way for durable stability and order. It will be a surprise to none of the readers of this blog, or those who know me, that I belong to the latter group.

The problem with this debate on Peace and Justice is that it is often carried out between academics or other leading actors that are far from the realities. Although we all participate in this debate in good faith and doing so believing that our respective positions contribute to peace, the debate is often led on questions of principles, or through large trends (looking at “the big picture”). In any case, it often feels slightly disconnected from the realities of the ground, no matter how much we would prefer it otherwise.

Darfurian Voices: Views from Victims and Affected Communities. This is where the work of 24 Hours for Darfur and the report Darfurian Voices bring some fresh air and a dose of reality-check to all of us. It also shows – to my satisfaction – that the “idealists” who lobby for international justice might be closer to the realities and wishes of the victims than the “realists” would care to admit.

What is flagrant in the Darfurian Voices report (available in PDF here) is how important Justice is to the refugees for them to agree to any Peace Agreement. On the Conditions for Peace, the Report writes:

“Together, disarmament and the provisions of security were the most commonly cited conditions for peace, followed by the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir and the unification of the rebel movements.” (from the Executive Summary – p. 9)

Another interesting excerpt:

Almost all respondents [over 90%] thought that all Sudanese government officials, commanders, and soldiers as well as Janjaweed commanders and soldiers who perpetrated violence should be held accountable in criminal trials conducted by the international community in general or the International Criminal Court in particular.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents believed that rebel commanders [72%] and rebel soldiers [70%] who perpetrated violence should be held accountable through criminal trials. The majority ofrespondents stated that rebel commanders [62 %] and rebel soldiers [60 %] should be tried by the international community or the ICC. Approximately 20% of respondents thought that rebels should be tried in an African regional court. Almost no one [5%] said that anyone who perpetrated violence during the conflict should be tried by the Sudanese government.

I’m not going to quote/analyze the whole report: I’m not specialized enough in the conflict in Darfur or polling methodology to provide for any pertinent analysis beyond what I have already written. I would just like to encourage people who have an interest in these issues to read the full report, which is full of interesting data.

More to the point, it is very interesting to have the victims of mass atrocities and affected communities speak out on what they expect in order to attain peace, and to see that Justice, potentially carried out by international courts such as the ICC, is an important – even fundamental – element of the peace process.

The only issue really between the victims and international standards of justice is the death penalty: 94% of the interviewees “thought that government officials who perpetrated crimes should be put to death.” I wish good luck to the ICC’s Outreach program to explain to these refugees that the death penalty is not possible under the Rome Statute.

Nevertheless, this Report is a great boost to those who claim that Justice is essential for sustainable peace to be achieved, and an interesting “piece of evidence”, so to speak, in the Debate. Not that it settles it once and for all.

And just for good measure, here is the “trailer” for the Darfurian Voices project:

See also the Darfurian Voices website for other videos of interviews with refugees, and more information on the conflict in Darfur and 24 Hours for Darfur’s work.

— Xavier Rauscher, follow me on Twitter @xrauscher_


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  1. #1 by CRY ME AN ONION on 19 September 2010 - 19:20

    I think it is Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General who said regarding the Kenya Post election conflict that ” Delayed Justice is Justice denied.”
    African leaders at all levels never provided the justice asked from their citizen.
    “24 Hours for Darfur” wasted their money. That’s another study into the obvious.

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